This month, November 1971, has a lot of 50th anniversaries of classic albums. Yesterday, November 5th, was Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water,” featuring “Levon,” and “Tiny Dancer.” Alvin Tostig had an album that day!
But today, November 6th. is incredibly important in R&B and pop history. It marks the 50th anniversary of the release of “The Stylistics,” the debut album of the Philly based falsetto strong combo produced by Thom Bell.
“The Stylistics” album contained the hits “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “Stop, Look and Listen,” “People Make the World Go Round,” and my favorite of all their many hits, “You Are Everything.”
It was Russell Thompkins Jr.’s sweet high notes that quickly became the signature sound of The Stylistics, a glossy vibe that was kind of the flip side of 60s soul as a new decade was ushered in. Where singers like Otis Redding, Sam Moore, and Wilson Pickett marked the heaviness of the decade just ended, Thompkins aimed for a romantic gesture that belied the anguish of war and rioting. He also brought the drama in every readying of each lyric.
All of this worked: the songs from “The Stylistics” remain pop fixtures on oldies radio. Even Prince covered “Betcha By Golly Wow.” (Believe it or not, the original version was recorded by Connie Stevens a year earlier.) Thom Bell is considered one of the premiere songwriters-producers-arrangers in pop history. Just like to “People Make the World Go Round.” It’s lightyears ahead of its time.
Bell followed up with more hits like “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” which had a chart-shattering run at number 1 the next year. His co-writer was Linda Creed, who died much too young a decade later at age 37. Creed wrote Bell’s lyrics, also wrote hits for the Spinners, and penned the words to Michael Masser’s eventual Whitney Houston hit, “The Greatest Love of All.”